ccTLDs vs. gTLDs: Who wins and where?

Veronika Vilgis
  • 10 months ago
  • 6 min read

Your web address is your unique identifier, and the top-level domain (TLD) plays a crucial role in shaping that identity. TLDs can be categorized into country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs), representing specific countries or territories, or generic top-level domains (gTLDs) like .com or .org. When people register a new domain, they have to decide under which TLD they want to register. In the case that both are still available, which one should you choose? And what are other organizations in your country using? Below we’ll take a look at which ccTLDs dominate the web and we dive deeper into the numbers when we take a look at the proportions of websites per country that utilize the respective ccTLD versus the .com generic TLD.

What are ccTLDs?

A ccTLD is a two-letter domain extension that signifies a specific country or territory on the internet. These extensions, such as ".es" for Spain or ".uk" for the United Kingdom, play a role in identifying websites and online resources associated with particular nations. 

The process to grant a ccTLD to a geographical region is overseen by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) together with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). When a country or territory wishes to establish its own ccTLD, it must submit a detailed request to ICANN. This application needs to showcase how the desired domain extension aligns with the country's identity and why it's needed.

ICANN and IANA review this request using specific eligibility criteria. Key factors considered include:

  • the region's unique national or territorial identity
  • a genuine need for the domain
  • the region's capacity to manage and maintain it efficiently

Once a request gets the green light, ICANN and IANA work closely with the requesting region's designated authority to finalize terms and responsibilities. After establishing an agreement, the ccTLD is integrated into the global domain system. The designated local authority then assumes the role of managing and ensuring the domain's smooth and secure operations.

Setting up a new ccTLD

National or territorial organizations known as ccTLD registries are responsible for managing and issuing the domain extension. Their tasks include maintaining domain names and offering registration services within their designated countries or territories. They also set the  criteria for registering.

Requirements can differ considerably from one registry to another. For example .ca - Canada has very strict rules, the registrant must meet Canadian presence requirements, which typically means being a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or a legally recognized Canadian organization or corporation. Registering a .no - Norway domain also comes with conditions, only Norwegian entities or individuals can register, and there's a limit to the number of domains one can register.

In contrast, some examples of ccTLDs that can be registered by anyone are .co (Colombia), .cc - Cocos (Keeling) Islands, .io - British Indian Ocean Territory, .me - Montenegro, .tv - Tuvalu or .ws - Western Samoa, all of these have minimal restrictions and are available to global registrants.

Based on our data, the top five ccTLDs with the largest amount of active domains are .de, .uk, .ru, .nl and .br.

What are the largest ccTLDs on the web?

According to this very nice map over at Nominet (the ccTLD registry for .uk), the largest ccTLDs by registrations are .tk, .cn, .de, .uk and .nl. The ccTLD .tk tends to top the list because it’s free to register a domain name. But these are only registration numbers - which don't mean all these ccTLDs are active websites. Based on our data, the top five ccTLDs with the largest amount of active domains are .de, .uk, .ru, .nl and .br. You can explore the numbers by world region in Figure 1. Among the smallest ccTLDs are .ss (South Sudan), .nr (Nauru), .kp (North Korea), .er (Eritrea) and .mh (Marshall Islands).

What are gTLDs?

The inception of gTLDs dates back to the early days of the internet. In the 1980s the DNS was established to replace the ARPANET's host.txt system. At that time, the initial gTLDs, such as .com, .org, .net, .edu, and .gov, were introduced. They categorized domains based on the nature and purpose of the entities they represented. For instance, .com was primarily intended for commercial entities, while .edu was designated for educational institutions.

The responsibility of administering and overseeing these domains was initially vested in the U.S. Department of Defense. Today however gTLDs, like ccTLDs, are overlooked by IANA and ICANN. The .com TLD is no doubt the most popular, well-established and well-known TLD in the world. Due to its lack of geographical specification, it is often favored by large international corporations that have a global presence. The popularity of .com domains is also reflected in its pricing, as you are typically more likely to pay more for a .com domain than for a respective ccTLD (although not always).

In Figure 1, we compared ccTLDs to each other, based on the total number of active websites. In Figure 2, we look at select countries and compare the share of .com websites to the country’s share of websites with that ccTLD extension. Who wins in which country? 

Perhaps not surprising, due to the liberal registration policies in Colombia and Montenegro, these ccTLDs win over .com in their respective countries. But as we discussed above, these are ccTLDs open to global registrations and are therefore different from most other countries. When we take these two out of the equation, the top three countries with the highest share of active domains using the ccTLD are Chile, Russia and Brazil. On the opposite side of the graph, countries with a much larger share of active .com domains are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Thailand and Canada. Like the US, Canadians may ride the .com train to create an overall wider appeal. It may also reflect strong trade ties with the US. Both .ca and .sa have strict registration policies, so it makes sense that the proportion of ccTLD domains is low. Right in the middle we see the Philippines, Lithuania and Ireland. The ratio of .com to ccTLD domains in these countries is about 1:1.

Of course we did not look at other TLDs that might be popular in these countries. The numbers may shift once you include other TLDs. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the distribution changes from one country to another. What might be the reasons for such a large variety? Could national pride be linked to whether a ccTLD or the .com domain is more popular in a given country? 

To test this hypothesis, we correlated reported percentages of national pride with the percentage of domains using the ccTLD extension. In Figure 3 you can see that the two variables are poorly linked, so national pride is not a good indicator whether a ccTLD is popular in that country or not. Obviously, there are many other reasons that could play a role, most likely the ccTLD popularity may just be a reflection of the different registration and pricing policies of the respective registry.

Choosing between a ccTLD and a gTLD isn't just a technical decision but a strategic one. If you want to focus on local presence, cultural connections, or compliance with regional regulations, a ccTLD may be the perfect fit.

Should you choose a ccTLD or a gTLD?

ccTLDs can establish localized trust, creating instant recognition with local customers. They signal that the business or website has a physical presence or caters to a specific country. This effect extends to search engine optimization (SEO), where local search results often favor websites with ccTLDs. ccTLDs are also useful when a business or website needs to comply with regional rules and regulations, especially in critical industries like finance and healthcare, where adherence to local laws is paramount. Lastly, they can help in forming a cultural connection with the target audience. By using a country-specific domain, it implies that the content might be tailored to the local language and cultural norms, thus enhancing the user's experience and engagement.

On the other hand, gTLDs provide a sense of universal recognition and international appeal. Globally acknowledged extensions like .com transcend geographic boundaries, allowing businesses to reach a broader market without being confined to a specific area. gTLDs offer wide availability and diverse applications. Their global nature typically gives more options when choosing a domain name. And the nature of specific extensions like .org or .edu can align with an organization's mission. gTLDs can also assist in uniform branding across different regions, building recognition and reliability.

Choosing between a ccTLD and a gTLD isn't just a technical decision but a strategic one. If you want to focus on local presence, cultural connections, or compliance with regional regulations, a ccTLD may be the perfect fit. But if your vision is global, with an ambition for an expansive reach and flexible branding, a gTLD like .com might be the preferred option. In the vast digital landscape, your choice is a statement about your identity, whether embracing local roots or building a global brand.

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